Poetry Friday: “All of These People”


“…all real unity commences
In consciousness of differences”

W.H. Auden

What is there to say at the end of a week such a this?  We turn to poets and find solace in their words. We turn to each other and find comfort in this space.

Krista Tippet recently interviewed Michael Longley, a Northern Irish poet whose work has sought “to reassert the liveliness of ordinary things, precisely in the face of what is hardest and most broken in life and society.”

Living in Northern Ireland throughout the years known as “the Troubles”, Longley has much to teach us as we come to terms with the results of this week’s election. I will keep his wise words in my heart as I go about my work in the coming months:

“And good art, good poems is making people more human, making them more intelligent, making them more sensitive and emotionally pure than they might otherwise be.”

“All of These People”
by Michael Longley

Who was it who suggested that the opposite of war
Is not so much peace as civilization? He knew
Our assassinated Catholic greengrocer who died
At Christmas in the arms of our Methodist minister,
And our ice-cream man who continuing requiem
Is the twenty-one flavours children have by heart.
Our cobbler mends shoes for everybody; our butcher
Blends into his best sausages leeks, garlic, honey;
Our cornershop sells everything from bread to kindling.

Who can bring peace to people who are not civilized?
All of these people, alive or dead, are civilized.

Listen to Michael Longley read his poem here.

Please be sure to visit Jama Rattigan at Jama’s Alphabet Soup for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

16 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: “All of These People”

  1. Thank you for posting this – I know some of Longley’s work, but I hadn’t read this poem before. I love how he distills a large question – What is the opposite of war? – down to its essential answer: the green grocer, the cobbler, the butcher. Thanks for the audio of Longley reading it, as well. The last line of the poem as he reads it is perfect.


  2. I love this poem (Longley is new to me). SO true — that the opposite of war is civilization. Civility has enabled us to co-exist despite our differences. I mourn the loss of civil discourse, the breakdown of moral consciousness, and the decay of society as we know it as revealed by this election. The nightmare has just begun.


  3. I was listening to this yesterday, Catherine…each poem seemed to resonate all the more with the grief I was feeling in this election’s aftermath. I need to read more of Longley – and pick up my Iliad, too.


  4. This reminds me of stories from war-torn Syria — in Aleppo, the baker gets up and fires the generator while residents stand in line all day for bread. The baker need to bake. Such a simple act is both protest and inspiration. Thank you for the poem, Catherine. xo


  5. It was nice to hear the poem too, Catherine. What considered thoughts emerge when we ponder others’ thoughts and ideas! I enjoy this poem, almost an “aside” or “by the way, did you realize?”. Wishing everyone did realize that “everything from bread to kindling” is here in our country to be celebrated. Thanks!


  6. What so often gets lost in angry rhetoric is the fact that we are all human beings – the “others” that are demonized and blamed are in fact human beings with hopes, dreams, and fears, who long for a better life. What a beautiful, heartbreaking poem.


  7. I will be returning to listen. I love On Being. The idea in this poem seems so simple. Let’s just love our neighbors, right?


  8. Wonderful poem. These lines sum up so well the details of what his neighbors have done:

    “Who can bring peace to people who are not civilized?
    All of these people, alive or dead, are civilized.”


  9. Your post was meant to bring comfort, but I’m thinking of Trump’s plans to demolish public education and the common core. And what is at the heart of the common core? That we will produce a nation of literate, civilized citizens. …Sigh…

    See you at NCTE?


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